Marco eagles grapple with parenting issues

Lance Shearer

Talking to the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation’s communications director Linda Turner, the parallels between domestic arrangements between bald eagle households and human households are striking.

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Typically, said Turner, “the male brings the food back to the nest” – mostly fish – “and the female shreds it and feeds it to the chicks.” So, dad is the breadwinner, and mom does the cooking, in the classic division of labor that is perhaps now rightfully more the norm for avian families than humans.

There are two chicks in the nest off Tigertail Court, in what has been known as Tract K, and growing eaglets have healthy appetites. The first was hatched on Feb. 7, said Turner, and the second within the week – “two to five days later, we’re not exactly sure.”

Once the eaglets can fly, becoming fledglings, the parents will escort them around the neighborhood, going further and further, until the kids get the equivalent of the car keys and fly off, turning Calusa, the mother, and her yet-to-be-named mate into empty nesters – literally. Sometimes, said Turner, last year’s fledglings will attempt to return to the parental nest, in what might be called “failure to launch” when human children do it, only to be chased away by their parents.

Thursday morning as the sun rose, four or five photographers were lined up along Tigertail Court, with their $15-20,000 camera rigs set up on tripods pointed at the nest and waiting for the mature birds to show up with breakfast for the kids. The vantage point is a regular stop for wildlife photographers, and after days of rain and heavy overcast, the shooters were eager for some eagle action. As the sun played peekaboo behind intermittent clouds, more shutterbugs showed up, until nine long lenses were waiting for the eagle parents, who apparently were having a frustrating morning fishing.

Capturing an awesome eagle photo at 100 yards takes skill, a major investment in photo equipment, and most of all, patience.

“It’s hurry up and wait,” said RJ Wiley of Bonita Springs, who has taken some breathtaking images, and sells them, donating the proceeds to the foundation.

The preservation group, which has been using the name Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary, maintains a live “eagle cam” which offers a closeup view of the nest without spending enough dollars to buy a new Harley. The equipment is mounted on a tall pole adjacent to the nest.

“We think the overall nature preserve concept is critical for Marco Island, to maintain some green space on the island,” said Carl Way, organization president. “We want to protect the habitat for all birds – it’s not just for the eagles.

“We want to help kids understand you can have a wildlife environment in the middle of development,” and that keeping open space for other creatures benefits people as well.

The foundation has plans, including a network of crushed shell paths through the 11.6-acre tract, a butterfly garden, signage to identify the local native flora, and eventually a building that can serve as a welcome and education center, at the corner furthest from the eagles’ nest, said Turner.

They also want to replace the existing benches and add more pavers – which can be purchased and customized for a donation to the group. First, the foundation needs to finalize acquiring the land, which they currently manage through a lease-purchase agreement from the District School Board of Collier County. In September, Way said he expected to have news on that front within the next 30-45 days, but the foundation is not ready to announce any acquisition or construction schedule yet.

To support the work of the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, view the eagle cam, or for more information, call 239-269-1754, or go online to